Cáceres, a winner of the Goldman prize for environmental defenders, was shot dead late at night on 2 March 2016 – two days before her 45th birthday – after a long battle to stop construction of an internationally financed hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River.
In November 2018, the court ruled the murder was ordered by executives of the Agua Zarca dam company, Desa, because of delays and financial losses linked to protests led by Cáceres.
On Monday, more than a year after the guilty verdict, the four paid hitmen – Elvin Rapalo, Edilson Duarte Meza, Óscar Torres, and Henry Javier Hernández – were each given 50 year sentences for the murder of Berta and the attempted murder of Gustavo Castro, who was shot but survived the attack.
Sergio Ramón Rodríguez, the communities and environment manager for Desa, and Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, a former Desa security chief and ex-US trained army lieutenant, were given 30 years and six months for their participation in the murder.
Mariano Díaz Chávez, a US-trained special forces major who served with Bustillo, was found guilty by omission and given 30 years.
“It is positive that people are being held to account for Berta’s murder,” said Hervé Bund, Trócaire’s Country Director in Honduras. “All seven men should have received the same sentence. There should be no difference between those who planned the murder and those who carried it out.
“The sentence is a positive step towards the identification and sanction of the masterminds of the crime, those who took the decision to commission the murder of Berta Caceres. This sentence dents the wall of impunity that those who masterminded the murder have enjoyed so far. This case is not over yet.”
The case highlights the links between the military, big business and criminals. Three of those convicted were serving or retired members of the Honduran army.
“From the outset, the path to justice has been painful, as our rights as victims have not been respected, said Bertita, Berta’s daughter. “These sentences are a start in breaking the impunity, but we’re going to make every effort to ensure that all those responsible – the company executives and state officials identified in the trial – are prosecuted.”
Cáceres, the coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh), was best known for defending indigenous territory and natural resources, but she was also a respected political analyst, women’s rights defender and anti-capitalist campaigner.